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March 20, 2004

Islam and "The Rod"

Middle East Media Research Institute has just released a report on Islamic Shar'ia law related to wife-beating.

In January, Sheikh Muhammad Kamal Mustafa, a Muslim cleric in Spain, was sentenced for publishing his book "The Woman in Islam" which includes the application of Shar'ia law as it relates to wife-beating.

One of the interesting points brought up in this article is the various interpretations of what the rod is and how beatings should be administered. For instance, in Mustafa writes,

"The [wife-]beating must never be in exaggerated, blind anger, in order to avoid serious harm [to the woman]." He adds, "It is forbidden to beat her on the sensitive parts of her body, such as the face, breast, abdomen, and head. Instead, she should be beaten on the arms and legs," using a "rod that must not be stiff, but slim and lightweight so that no wounds, scars, or bruises are caused." Similarly, "[the blows] must not be hard."

Please pay attention to the description of the rod, "must not be stiff, but slim and lightweight so that no wounds, scars, or bruises are caused."

This is the same wording used by some Christians about the type of rod that should be used when punishing children. For example, Gary Ezzo teaches that children ought to be "chastised" with a "biblical rod" which he describes as "somewhat flexible, not stiff or unbending" instrument (GKGW, p.220). Ezzo families sometimes describe this being a wide strip of rubber tubing, a rubber show sole, a thin razor strap, or a large glue stick.

Michael and Debbie Pearl similary suggest that "a light, flexible instrument will sting without bruising or causing internal damage. Many people are using a section of ¼ inch plumber’s supply line as a spanking instrument."

Credenda Agenda suggests, ". . .wood seems the obvious choice. Look for something about a cubit long that flirts with flexibility, but be sure it's strong enough. . ." Volume 14, Issue 4

Both Ezzo and Pearl call for immediate obedience from children, followed by "chastisement" with the rod if they don't comply without delay.

At least the Muslims show more patience with their wives--beating with a rod is the third step in "wifely discipline." The first is gentle verbal admonishments and the second is being removed from the marriage bed.

From the photos in the MEMRI article, the Muslim's "small rod" is a bit bigger than a glue stick.


However, the photo of the "large rod" seems to be much closer to a shebet, the type of rod that is referred to in Proverbs.


For further reading, I recommend Laurie Moody's study on Biblical Discipline and Joan Sewell's study Suffer the Little Children.

Update: Though taking a different angle, this story is also being talked about by The Commissar, Chris, DhimmiWatch, Matt, John , Allah and Marsupial Mom.

(Via schoolraider)


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Another author who shares the same position on punishing children as Ezzo and Pearl is Douglas Wilson. His book, "Standing on the Promises" was the catalyst that forced me to study this issue. In his chapter on the application of Godly discipline, he writes a scenario with the following quote from one of the characters, "There are times when my wife spent the whole day with a wooden spoon in her hip pocket ... Discipline must be painful. It must not inflict damage, so use a 'flat' wooden spatula. At the same time it must inflict pain- memorable 'pain'. Don’t spank over diapers. Don’t spank with a little tap, tap, tap. Teach your wife to flick her wrist when she spanks and teach her to think 'sting'." Doesn't sound like living out the Fruits of the Spirit to me. Gentleness...

Posted by: Carol at March 21, 2004 01:59 AM

What are the alternatives to spanking children?

Posted by: kristen at March 22, 2004 01:10 AM

I don't mean to be argumentative, but what does rod mean if it doesn't mean rod, or at least apply to some sort of physical chastisement? And what is Proverbs 23:13,14, if not an exhortation to the use of physical chastisement in godly fear?

The "Jesus is not harsh with children" doesn't wash for me in light of Hebrews 12. He is not harsh with us, His larger children, and yet he *does* "scourge" us.

I guess my problem is that there seems to be an assumption that there is some kind of greater harshness implicit in physical discipline as compared to other forms. I don't see that as being a necessary premise. Physical pain seems to be presented as inherently more cruel, or something, which I'm not convinced of. One can be just as harsh or non-harsh with either physical or non-physical discipline, so why rule out one on the grounds of harshness?


Posted by: pentamom at March 22, 2004 05:42 PM


What are alternatives to spanking? Effective alternitives, right? *grin*

There are a lot of good "tools" for discipline. I've found a lot depends on the age of the child, the situation, the personality of the child, and the parent/child relationship.

Toddlers are at an age that require a lot of active parenting and are learning and growing so much. Your question is so broad. . . So, I'll limit my answer to examples that relate to toddlers.

One of the reasons I used to think spanking was developmentally appropriate for toddlers was because they are very concrete learners. It's frustrating to watch a mother try to reason and keep talking, talking, talking to a tiny toddler whose brain just can't take it all in fast enough and translate that into action!

Toddlers are smart, though. Sometimes they learn quickly when no is no. Sometimes, though, they like to try things again and again. This can result in repeated spankings, the toddler knowing something is a "no" and still doing it--because they are a persistent toddler. Or because they don't "get it" that it is a no.

One thing that works well is redirection. Like spanking, it has the -physical- element that is appropriate for their stage of development.

For example, toddler reaches out to touch a breakable vase, Mom moves his hand away and says "No touching." (Not lectures or longwinded reasoning!) Mom hands toddler a car. The toddler may "get it" and not touch it again. The toddler may touch it again and Mom repeats the redirection.

Regardless, with spankings or redirection, there WILL be a lot of repitition with toddlers!

Another tool that I've found really helpful, both with toddlers and older children, is The Five Steps. In fact, I was thinking about blogging on it last week, and never got around to it!

I've changed a lot since becoming a mother. Many of these changes are reflected in my mothering. And one of the things that has changed is my attitude towards my children. I loved my children and really did want the best for them and was very active in parenting them. But I made a lot of mistakes.

One of those mistakes was in attitude. I thought I was responsible to make my kids obey, rather than help my kids obey. I had developed an antagonistic attitude that led to me viewing many situations as "power struggles" that didn't need to be. These are attitudes that I see come about from the teachings of Ezzo and Pearl and others. (And Wilson, as Carol says--though I haven't read much of what he's written.)

I still make mistakes. But my focus now is nurturing my children as they grow into the people God has created them to be. I want to communicate my unconditional love to them. I want to help them understand that they are little sinners in need of a Saviour. I want them to understand that they God's grace isn't dependent upon them being good children--but upon God's gracious love.

Posted by: TulipGirl at March 22, 2004 08:21 PM


I totally agree with "Physical pain seems to be presented as inherently more cruel, or something, which I'm not convinced of. One can be just as harsh or non-harsh with either physical or non-physical discipline. . ." I think withdrawing love and affection from a child is horribly harmful.

On the first point you made. . . I'm going to have to get back with you. I just spent the time I have online now replying to Kristen, and I anything thoughtful on this subject, I'm afraid will take me time to type.

Posted by: TulipGirl at March 22, 2004 08:27 PM

We have found the most helpful source to be Tedd Tripp's _Shepherding a Child's Heart_ (http://www.shepherdpress.com/), which focuses on internal obedience to God-ordained authority rather than merely achieving external compliance. He does advocate spanking, though not as the only or even the best means for teaching discipline. We rejected Ezzo as nuts when we first read him when my wife was pregnant with our first child, but I think he "spanking is violence" approach is just as imbalanced, in the other direction.

Posted by: Russ at March 23, 2004 12:26 AM



I grew up assuming that good, Christian parents were required by the Bible to spank. That was what I learned through example and the teachings of moms I respected. I didn't question it. The Bible commands it. If you don't spank, you will be permissive. If you don't spank, your kids will run wild and face the unhappy end of that sin just like Eli's sons.

I also grew up in a wide range of denominations, knowing lots of bits of the Bible but have a less cohesive theological framework.

Sorting through what I understand the Bible to teach theologically came about at the same time that I began sorting through my ideas about parenting. It's pretty humbling finding out how much I don't know and how many mistakes I've made along the way--in both those areas! (Ah, and makes me so thankful for God's grace!)

Posted by: TulipGirl at March 23, 2004 04:51 AM

what does rod mean if it doesn't mean rod, or at least apply to some sort of physical chastisement? And what is Proverbs 23:13,14, if not an exhortation to the use of physical chastisement in godly fear?

You mentioned:

Pr 23:13 Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.

Pr 23:14 Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.

The other "rod verses" include:

Pr 13:24 He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.

Pr 22:15 Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.

Pr 29:15 The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.

Posted by: TulipGirl at March 23, 2004 04:54 AM

I believe that Proverbs is included in the 2 Tim 3:16 assurance that "All scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness."

However, it is a Wisdom book, and the verses have less context around them to help clarify them, than others in the Bible. As John MacArthur writes of Proverbs that "These are wise sayings and truisms -- not necessarily inviolable rules."

And have you noticed, Proverbs appears to use quite a bit of hyperbole.

For example, earlier in the chapter that includes "beat him with the rod and save his soul from death, are the verses:

When you sit to dine with a ruler,
note well what is before you, and put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony. Proverbs 23:1-2

So when I read these "rod" verses, it's very easy for me to read them for the concept (don't be a glutton, faithfully discipline your child) rather than taking them as specific commands (slit your throat, beat with a rod.)

And in these rod verses, the concepts seem clear when we look at the parallelism in the verses, for example:

"Withhold not correction from the child. . ."
". . .but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes."
". . .but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame."

And these concepts are very much in line with what I think one of the clearest and strongest commands for us, both as people and as parents.

Posted by: TulipGirl at March 23, 2004 05:13 AM

Duet 6:4-7

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

Posted by: TulipGirl at March 23, 2004 05:15 AM

Looking more specificly at the rod verses, I'd like to direct you to Joan Sewell's study. While I've done some on my own, it was her study that was key in some of the direction of that.

The Hebrew word used in the rod verses quoted above is shebet. In the KJV it is translated as tribe, rod, sceptre, staff, and 4 other misc words. The most frequent usage is tribe, which is not a physical piece of wood but a symbolic representation. 2/3rds of the general occurances of shebet are symbolic from the start.

Looking more closely at the times shebet is translated as rod, excluding the five verses in question, the usage breaks down as follows:

5 times as a tool (shepherd, thrashing, punishing)
2 times on a fool
3 times symbol of offshoot/heritage of God
3 times symbol man's authority
11 times symbol of God's authority
2 times authority of the wicked
4 times authority of nations

So, from these shebet-as-rod verses, about 2/3rds are used in a symbolic sense.

Not that number "prove" anything--it's just that it seems in line with the word shebet is generally used to understand it symbolicly.

Posted by: TulipGirl at March 23, 2004 05:26 AM

Let's look at the rod verses with the idea of rod symbolizing parental authority.

Pr 13:24 He that spareth his [parental authority] hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.

Pr 22:15 Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the [parental authority] of correction shall drive it far from him.

Pr 23:13 Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the [parental authority], he shall not die.

Pr 23:14 Thou shalt beat him with the [parental authority], and shalt deliver his soul from hell.

Pr 29:15 The [parental authority] and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.

To be honest, I think parental authority fits well in our understanding of the Proverbs 13, 22, and 29 verses. It doesn't seem like a stretch at all. The Proverbs 23 verses don't seem to accept that interpretation as easily (some think it does, though.)

The stronger message than "good parents spank" is "good parents exercise parental authroity and are careful to discipline, teach, train and correct" their children. And I see that more consistent with Deuteronomy 6, as well as the overarching view of parenting and parent/child relationships in the Bible.

Posted by: TulipGirl at March 23, 2004 05:34 AM

When I first started studying this issue, the five Proverbs verses as well as Hebrews 12 seemed to be giving a different message than the rest of the Bible. I see them as consistent now. I can see how a parent should be gentle - never harsh (physically or emotionally) - and how consistent this is with the teachings of Christ and the concept of grace. Christian grace-filled parenting is not permissive, nor is it autocratic. It is truly balanced.

Translating words from the Bible to be accurately understood by the changing cultures can be an issue with verses. Proverbs 23:13,14 NIV says, "Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die. Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death." As commented by the author of "Biblical Parenting", "If this verse is instruction to strike a child with a stick then it's lying – because you can kill a child by hitting them with or without a 'rod'. In the original language the word you cite as ‘punish’ is actually 'beat' and is the same 'beat' as in 'the sun beat down on Jonah' and means a constant presence. The point is, the word 'beat' is not always used to refer to hitting. It is, however, appropriate to render its use in the verse in question as a constant, if not always pleasant, presence of authority. Tell a child 'no' and see how pleasant they think it is. We are instructed to be a constant presence of authority in our children's lives."

Another example of a cultural interpretation problem is as follows. "Now great multitudes accompanied him; and he turned and said to them, 'If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.'" Luke 14:25-17 The author of "How Would Jesus Raise a Child?" says that, "the word hate – in Greek, miseo – as used in this passage, meant to give one thing a lower priority or preference than another. In this context it did not mean to despise as we use the word hate today."

Here is an interesting perspective on Hebrews 12. Copy and paste into your browser:

Posted by: Carol at March 23, 2004 02:48 PM

Hey, TulipGirl. I'm just standing back in admiration. Great post. Your comments about spanking and the rod are just about the best I've ever seen. I have nothing I could possibly add. I think your comments should be made into a whole new entry.

Posted by: Missy at March 23, 2004 05:22 PM

Regarding spanking, the rod, et al, I greatly appreciate TulipGirl'l study on the various meanings and uses of the word in scripture.
I believe whether or not to spank is a personal decision parents make. No matter what form of discipline is used, the child(ren) must be aware of the parents' love and concern for them. When the discipline/punishment is over, there must be forgiveness - shown by physical expressions of love and affection.
One point more: there is a lot of writing and talk about any form of physical punishment being abusive. NONSENSE! Our children are smart enough to know the difference between deserved punishment and child abuse. They know when they have disobeyed.
While I would not be (was not in child-rearing days) as strong on demanding instant obedience a la Ezzo, Wilson et al, I do think parents often let things slide, threatening "if you do that one more time..." or "if you don't pick up your toys..." and then punish probably too harshly out of our own frustration and anger. Oh how I wish I could go back 30+ years and do it all over again! I rest in the knowledge that God is gracious and forgiving.

Posted by: FLGrandma at March 24, 2004 01:46 PM

Other related and interesting resources:


Posted by: TulipGirl at June 24, 2005 06:22 PM

I'm confused by the comments here

Posted by: spank at November 13, 2005 09:01 AM

TG this is not an easy topic. Parenting is never perfect. I look back as FLG/ma (above post) does (my 3 are young adults now) & am relieved that God is gracious. I have talked to my mother about this too, & she says the same. It requires a lot of prayer & a huge amount of love for our children.

I see parents who neglect their kids, by not caring enough to put boundaries & to help self discipline grow. Mostly a short smack on the bottom, eye contact, & a firm No are all thats needed for a toddler. & giving a toy or book to distract.

Posted by: Marion at April 8, 2006 04:58 AM

One must remember that, just as Christians have parenting schools of thought in opposition, so does Islam. The title of this post would indicate you believe that this position is definitive of the position of Islam, and I assure you it is not. (I am not sure that this is your position, but the title is akin to saying 'Christianity and the Rod' and could mislead the reader.)

Just one example of AP and Islamic parenting:

One can find many such examples, if one searches the internet with an open mind and heart.


Posted by: Amy at April 8, 2006 12:01 PM

This just doesn't match up, all this anti-spanking rhetoric. I was spanked as a child, quite a few times, I learned from it. I've never been violent, never tried to hit my parents, I'm not in prison, I love them and respect them. And I will use Biblical discipline someday on my kids, not this GBD "oh no, don't be your child's adversary ever" stuff- you have to break your child's will first to gain the respect- love love love, fine...but your discipline must be firm and tempered with love- "punitive?" Well, yeah! God punishes us when we disobey- that's how it works.

And you say that spanking teaches violence- yet spanking in America is decreasing and violent crime is increasing! Hello??!!???

Posted by: j b at May 18, 2006 11:36 AM

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